Return to Mirkwood solo: manipulating the encounter deck

Return to Mirkwood was clearly designed with multiplayer in mind, and is considerably tougher solo due to the fact that your threat increases by 4 each round, but it is possible to consistently beat the scenario solo if you are clever about your deck building and tactics.

Some of the challenges your deck needs to handle are spiralling threat, powerful enemies, treacheries that can instantly kill a hero, and a quest stage in which you can’t play cards from your hand. So we have our work cut out for us!

Threat reduction

Without threat reduction you have 6 rounds to make it to the finish line before you threat out. To play for time you will need to use Gandalf’s enter play response or The Galadhrim’s Greeting to reduce your threat. Dwarven Tomb or Will of the West can give you extra uses of The Galadhrim’s Greeting.

Encounter deck manipulation

Because you are racing against the clock you can’t afford for your quest progress to be stalled by combat. The encounter deck will try to overpower you with Hill Trolls, Marsh Adders, an assortment of terrifying spiders and Mirkwood Bats that damage every character in play. A combat deck might allow you to take down those enemies, but your attack strength will probably come at the expense of willpower. By focussing on encounter deck manipulation instead of combat you can banish most enemies before they ever hit the staging area, leaving you free to commit characters to the quest.

In the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle the ultimate encounter deck manipulator is Denethor, who not only can scry the deck but can move cards to the bottom of the pile. Slap an Unexpected Courage on him and you can neutralise 2 enemies or treacheries every round. Henamarth Riversong can also scry the encounter deck, and Return to Mirkwood helpfully gives us a new deck manipulation event in the form of Shadow of the Past.

Treacheries can be handled in the same way as enemies – by avoiding them altogether. Failing that, A Test of Will is an ever reliable standby.

Preparing for the 3rd stage

In the 3rd quest stage the player guarding Gollum cannot play cards from their hand, so you are in danger of becoming location locked if you don’t have enough allies in play. You are also at risk of threating out since you can’t play threat reduction cards, and are exposed to treacheries and shadow effect because you can’t cancel them with A Test of Will or Hasty Stroke.

You could charge through the scenario and hope that you have enough allies in play by the time you flip the 3rd quest card, but that’s little more than a blind gamble. Instead you need to pace yourself and only proceed to the 3rd stage when you are sure you have the questing power to successfully clear the stage in one round, or two at the most.

The key is to pack your deck with low cost, high willpower allies. The scenario plays too quickly to save up for expensive allies, and you’ll need to keep resources available to pay for threat reduction cards. Until you have a decent ally army in play you should delay proceeding to stage 2, and certainly don’t proceed to stage 3. By scrying the encounter deck you will hopefully know exactly what card is going to be revealed each turn and can pace your quest progress accordingly.

Card draw

The last piece of the puzzle is card draw. You need to move quickly and can’t wait around for your best cards to find their way into your hand by themselves. Having Bilbo as a hero doubles your passive card draw, Gléowine can draw a card most turns, and 3 copies of Ancient Mathom can net you an additional 9 cards.

The deck

Let’s put it all together and construct a progression deck capable of crushing Return to Mirkwood solo!

Total Cards: (50)

Hero: (3)
1x Eowyn (Core Set)
1x Bilbo Baggins (The Hunt for Gollum)
1x Denethor (Core Set)

Ally: (26)
3x The Riddermark’s Finest (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
3x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Rivendell Minstrel (The Hunt for Gollum)
2x Longbeard Map-Maker (Conflict at the Carrock)
2x Mirkwood Runner (Return to Mirkwood)
3x West Road Traveller (Return to Mirkwood)
2x Miner of the Iron Hills (Core Set)
2x Gleowine (Core Set)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)

Attachment: (11)
3x Ancient Mathom (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x Song of Kings (The Hunt for Gollum)
2x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Celebrian’s Stone (Core Set)

Event: (13)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
1x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
2x Hasty Stroke (Core Set)
2x Secret Paths (Core Set)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x Will of the West (Core Set)
2x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)
2x Shadow of the Past (Return to Mirkwood)

Sideboard: (2)
2x Forest Snare (Core Set)


I have already outlined the broad strategy of the deck, but let’s look at some specific gameplay tactics.

  • Scry the encounter deck with Denethor at the start of every round and move any enemies or nasty treacheries to the bottom of the deck. The exception might be the Goblin Sniper, who is easily dispatched.
  • Attach Unexpected Courage to Denethor so you can get double use of his ability.
  • If Denethor is exhausted you can use Hennemarth Riversong’s ability to see what’s on top of the encounter deck, or Shadows of the Past to move a benign card from the encounter discard pile to the top of the deck.
  • Try to leave Gléowine unexhausted so you can use his card draw ability at the end of each round.
  • Attach Ancient Mathom to locations for additional card draw.
  • Attach Song of Kings to Eowyn, then Steward of Gondor. Use the additional resources to pay for The Galadhrim’s Greeting, Celebrian’s Stone, Sneak Attack, Gandalf and Spirit allies.
  • Use Dwarven Tomb to get an additional use of GG.
  • If Wasted Provisions sneaks through and causes you to discard important cards from the top of your deck, you can use Will of the West to get them back again.
  • Do not advance to stage 3 of the quest until you have a sizeable ally army on the board. You want to clear the stage in one round and will need to put 7 progress tokens on the quest card to do so.
  • Save single use questing allies such as Escort from Edoras for stage 3.
  • The sideboard contains Forest Snare, which could be used to trap enemies that sneak past your defences.

So far my deck has a 3/3 win rate. Hopefully it will work for you too, and dispel the notion that winning Return to Mirkwood solo is nothing but a matter of good luck. By manipulating the encounter deck you can make your own luck!

Header art by Andrew Johanson


Is mono-Tactics viable with the Mirkwood card pool?


  1. Andy

    Hi, I’ve just discovered your blog. The entries are very clear and easy to understand for a relatively new player like me! I am currently battling against Return to Mirkwood solo, using Beorn’s Path deck, but no luck so far, so will give yours a go! One question – when you talk about using Denthor’s ability twice (with unexpected courage) at which points would you do this? We only draw one Encounter card per round, so would you use it twice in succession, say at the end of combat to see wha5 is coming next round?

    • Jonathan

      Hi Andy. Other commitments mean that I haven’t been playing LoTR LCG recently, so I am glad to hear that my blog is still proving useful in my absence.

      Whether I use Denthor’s ability twice in succession is context dependent. As a rule of thumb I would try to keep him ready as long as possible, and ideally both uses of his ability would occur at the end of the round, like you suggest. But if I ever didn’t know what was on top of the encounter deck at the start of the round, or knew that a nasty card was on the top, then I would use Denthor’s ability once, or possibly twice, during the planning phase.

      Henamarth Riversong is also useful after you have exhausted Denethor and still don’t know what is on top of the encounter deck. He can let you know what is coming up, and even if you can’t avoid that card at least you can plan for it accordingly.

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